It all started with a latent rebellious streak and a provocative bedtime story. A modern take on the virgin birth is brought to life in the utterly charming Electrick Children. Rachel (Julia Garner), a sweet young girl living on a small Mormon compound out in the Nevada dessert, is seemingly committed to the quiet and pious ways by which her family live. Although she is the very model of obedience and feminine chastity, Rachel falls pregnant, forcing her to choose between the expectations of her fundamentalist family and what she feels in her heart.
The film opens with Rachel reciting the vows of innocence to her Pastor father (Billy Zane) on her fifteenth birthday. A tape recorder is used to document the conversation, and Rachel’s shock at the contraption shows us just how isolated from the outside world this community is. Desperate to hear the sound of her own voice, an Alice in Wonderland-like curiosity runs through Rachel’s veins particularly strongly the following night, leading her to sneak into the basement and replay the conversation she had with her father. Alongside a top-of-the-range widescreen TV (finally giving us a definite insight into the time period of the film) Rachel finds an unlabelled blue tape.
As the tape hits the deck, The Nerves’ hit Don’t Leave Me Hanging On the Telephone fills the room. Simultaneously the girl’s brother enters and immediately wrestles her to the ground to get back the tape that he had clearly hidden so well for so long. As misfortune would have it, their mother enters the rooms, and accuses the brother of sexually abusing Rachel, despite her protestations.
And so comes the beginning of the end. Rachel falls pregnant, believing that the mesmerising voice on the tape impregnated her with God’s child. Her brother Will is exiled from the community and Rachel is forced into a shotgun wedding with a local boy. Rachel’s mother sees her daughter about to spiral into the misery that she herself has lived within the constraints of Mormon life and hands Rachel the keys to their truck in the middle of the night. Rachel drives away into the dessert, unaware that her brother has stowed away in the flat-bed of the truck. The siblings drive to Vegas, stumble upon the eternally misfortunate Clyde (Rory Caulkin) and his band of trash metal wasters. Pain, romance and loyalty become a part of Rachel’s ever-deepening search for the singer on the tape, who she believes to be the father of her child, leading her to an unexpected meeting, an unexpected love and a future that’s more uncertain than ever.
The story may sound a little ridiculous, and it is, but writer and director Rebecca Thomas provides the emotion and intricate details needed to follow the story without feeling frustrated. It would be impossible to believe that this girl has genuinely fallen victim to a Godly virgin birth, but there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Rachel believes it to be true with all her heart. The dark truth behind the subject is only broached once by the adorably goofy Rory Caulkin, that in a community with her relatives as the only men, the pregnant girl must in fact be a victim of a much darker crime. Whether it’s ferocious denial or a genuine religious innocence, it’s clear that Rachel knows her child is the son of God and she will do anything to protect it.
Thomas uses her own experiences as a young Mormon (albeit not so fundamentalist) to create an authentic and fair portrayal of a world that is so untouchable for the rest of us. She cast the characters with perfection, blending a strange mix of teenage emotion with situations that far surpass their green years. Julia Garner is a beautiful mix of unaffected naivety and dormant mischievousness, whilst Rory Caulkin tackles the role of a disaffected youth with real heart. The teen thespians are so wonderfully endearing for the entire 95 minutes that you cannot help but hang onto their every word.
A strong, hand-picked soundtrack and a humorous edge to every scene make this indie flick one that punches way above its budget constraints. Thomas is a director with an eye for detail and a real understanding of a young girl’s emotions. This is a beautifully shot film that has already gathered an impressive cult following and will undoubtedly rocket Rebecca Thomas to the heights she deserves.
Electrick Children is out in cinemas from 13 July.